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Elisabetta Sirani (1638 - 1665)

Elisabetta Sirani
(1638 - 1665)
      Art Work
Name: Elisabetta Sirani
Gender: Female
Place of Birth: Bologna
Nationality: Italian
Birth: 1638
Death: 1665
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   Quick Facts
Known For:
Fine Art Profession(s): Painting

In the eyes of her contemporaries Elisabetta Sirani of Bologna was the ideal woman artist - young, beautiful and unmarried, gifted, pious and. despite her success, modest of manner. She drew and painted with an ease and a speed that drew astonished admirers to her studio. She gave her images the softness, elegance and decorous beauty that, since the Renaissance, had been deemed the natural expression of femininity. Not least, her work accorded with the dominant taste of the time for the style of Guido Reni, a painter all but worshipped in seventeenth-century Italy.

The artist's father, Giovanni Andrea Sirani, had worked as Reni's assistant and inherited some of his teacher's drawings and composition studies. Giovanni recognized Elisabetta's outstanding talent for drawing only after his attention had repeatedly been drawn to it by his friend the art critic Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia. Sirani himself taught his daughter and. when arthritis eventually forced him to give up painting, made her head of his workshop. Although henceforth she provided for the entire family, she was still required to pass on all her earnings to her father Soon, she was instructing not only her two sisters. Barbara and Anna Maria, but also a number of other young women. More than a dozen women painters are known to have belonged to Sirani's circle.

Sirani was exceptionally prolific, producing almost two hundred works over a period of thirteen years. Only with the help of her assistants was she in a position to carry out all her commissions, so it is scarcely surprising that her pictures vary considerably in quality. The bulk of her work, in addition to portraits and mythological subjects, consists of religious paintings. She herself produced engravings of these. Most frequently represented among them are images of the Virgin and Child and the Holy Family, popular subjects that she invested with the character of intimate family scenes notable for naturalistic depictions of a playful Christ Child. An example is the painting illustrated here, which, with its exquisite color harmonies and gently flowing brushwork, belongs among Sirani's finest.

The catalogue that Sirani made of her work breaks off after 182 entries, following the celebrated artist's death in August 1665 at the age of twenty-seven. She had suffered for months from stomach pains, and the most extraordinary rumors circulated after her death. Her servant was accused of poisoning her, but the autopsy carried out in connection with the servant's trial revealed a stomach ulcer. Some scholars now believe that Sirani died of overwork. Her fame was not affected by her early death. The artist, who had been a full member of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, was accorded an official burial by the Bolognese authorities, and just over ten years later the first biography of her was published. In this, her discoverer', Count Malvasia, traced a tradition of women artists in the city, from the painter-saint Catherine of Bologna, via the Renaissance sculptor Properzia dei Rossi and the famous painter Lavinia Fontana, to contemporary times. Never before and nowhere else in Europe had there been so many women artists active in a single place as in Bologna in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

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